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Canadian Makers Spring Gift Guide

Hey Product Makers and Artists!

Applications for the Spring Gift Guide are only open until April 14th! Apply yourself, or tag a maker friend / pass this along to them, we’d LOVE to feature you (and them!) in our Spring guide.

(The gift guide is a FREE magazine style guide we volunteer our time to put together to uplift and promote our fellow artisans!)

For more information and to apply, head on over to the Canadian Makers site!

FREE 2017 Website & Business Planner!

Happy New Year!

With the way Christmas and New Year’s fell on the calendar last year, I feel like that first week of January was getting back into routines and playing catchup more so than getting anything actually planned for 2017!

So here’s your chance! Download our Free 2017 Website & Business Planner PDF and get going on your goal setting!

The PDF will take you through basic business goals that are going to set the foundation for your marketing and website for the year. Try to push yourself from what you’ve done previously and think about new things to try – but keep in mind what worked last year too.

Once you’ve got your foundation goals set for your business, think about how they should be applied to your website. How do these new goals change what your site should look like? What the site should encourage people to do so those goals are realized?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from pros that know how to get things done for you! I’m always here for your business, design and website needs – feel free to give me a shout and see how I can help you tackle that list!

ABCs of Business: You, Zero Regret

Y is for You:
You are the key to making your business work. You need to be committed to lay a proper foundation, do the research, and be sure that the business is viable first. You need to make sure you’re ready to wear all the hats of an entrepreneur (and/or have the money to pay for the parts where you need an expert). You need to be ready to learn constantly, make mistakes, enjoy the big wins, and plan for the slow times. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of satisfaction when you succeed and grow. You can do it – just start from the beginning, one step at a time.

Z is for Zero Regret:
If you’ve done the research, you’ve planned it out, and the numbers work. Go for it – you’ll never regret it.

ABCs of Business: Viability, Wireframes, X Marks the Spot

V is for Viability:
So you have a great idea for a business… but can you make a profit from it?

Starting a business is an exciting time, but there’s a lot more that goes into it than just the services and products you’re offering. Before you start, you need to see if your business is viable – ie. can you make a living from it.

Checking viability is a lot of research, a lot of numbers, and a lot of spreadsheets – but it will open your eyes to what you can expect in the first couple of years and help you decide if you’d still like to move forward. Save yourself the time, money, and stress of jumping into a new business and get an honest look at the viability of your business idea before you start. If the numbers don’t work, or the market isn’t there, we’ll talk about how to tweak your plan to give it a better shot as a profitable business.

Knowing your target market, your competition, how much it will cost to run your business, your potential income, and having a marketing and sales plan are key to testing the viability of your idea before launching your business.

W is for Wireframes:

Wireframes are simple black and white documents that don’t reflect the design elements of the site, they ensure that all the functionality that needs to be there exists, and that the layout hits the goals from your Business Plan through hierarchy of information – without being distracted by fonts and colours!

X is for X Marks the Spot:
Who is your ideal client or target audience? Once you know who you’re selling to, it’s easier to focus your voice and message directly to them.

ABCs of Business: Strategy, Target Market, Useability

S is for Strategy:
Not having a strategy is similar to not having a plan – why wouldn’t you use all the information you have/can get, and apply it to achieve your goals?

Your strategy should be built on your business plan goals, plus everything you know about your target market, the results of your past marketing efforts, and anything else that can give your strategy outcome a better rate of success. Taking risks can be worth it, but base it off knowledge, and make sure it’s trackable so you can properly measure how well it did!

T is for Target Market:
Having a solid focus on who your target market is helps drive your advertising and promotional efforts to the right audience. Consider where your potential clients are located or visit often. What are they looking for in a product/service? What problems do they have that you can solve? Where do they get their information before committing to buying a product/service? Are they multiple purchasers throughout the year, or one time buyers? How big is the average transaction? Get even more specific and look at if your target is consumers or other businesses.

Do you know your target market? Need some help?

U is for Useability:
Useability is considering what your visitor expects when they come to your website, and hitting each and every one of those expectations.

With today’s technology standards, they expect a lot – and they should. There’s no reason why a business shouldn’t be covering the most basic aspects of good layout, design and functionality.

Here are a few examples of basic expectations:

  • they can browse your site on their computer or mobile device (no flash-based sites!)
  • the basic structure of the site won’t change as they browse (ex. the menu won’t change position)
  • they’ll get visual feedback when they click/hover on things that have actions associated with them (like a change in colour for links/buttons)
  • can avoid unnecessary clicks as they navigate (no splash page)

These expectations are just the tip of the iceberg, you know your target market, list out what type of functionality they’re expecting and what will appeal to them – and start checking your site!

ABCs of Business: Plan, Questions, Review

P is for Plan:
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Harsh words (somewhat edited from Benjamin Franklin), but also true.

Planning doesn’t guarantee success, but it gives you somewhere to start, and something to learn from – namely, what did and did not work. I love to plan, organize, and come up with strategies to test out. I tweak what worked, what didn’t, and keep at it, trying for better results, sometimes taking risks that don’t pan out, but learning from that too. If you don’t make a plan, you aren’t giving yourself the chance to learn from the results. Much like goal setting, it can definitely be overwhelming, but it applies the same way – having an overall plan, and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces so every aspect is accounted for and can be tracked and analyzed so you’re moving forward in a positive direction.

It all starts with your business plan. Once you cover each aspect of your business there (your target market, operations, systems, marketing, sales, etc.), you can keep going back to it to make sure that your marketing matches your target audience, and your marketing efforts are matching your sales goals. Your business plan should be revised annually with your new goals, new things you learned about your ideal client, new trends and technologies that will affect your business and your marketing, and identify where your business has grown, and which direction it should be going in.

So plan to succeed! … or at least to learn from it and confidently move forward.

Q is for Questions:
As a designer, an important part of figuring out the best recommendations I can give my clients is asking the right questions. I ask a variety of questions, some of which can seem vague, but they give me great clues to put into words the style, tone, and message for the design and functionality. I’ve heard a number of times from clients wondering about why I ask something, but the more they talk about their answer, the faster they catch on – it’s to cover different angles to get a clear picture of what they’re looking for, without them having to sit down and try to write it all out from scratch. They go through some questions – and it’s suddenly all laid out for them. One of the best tools I use for this system is templates. I improve on them when I see opportunity, but having my questions all set to go in a template saves loads of time and having frequently asked questions pre-answered saves time too!

No matter what type of business you run, you’ll always get questions from your customers – save yourself some time and write out the answers to your most frequently asked questions and add it to your website!

Go one step further, and ask yourself what other questions your clients might have, and look at how your site is set up – are there areas that are adding to confusion? Could you have more information, or more concise information on certain pages? An in depth Website Analysis could be the answer!

R is for Review:
Reviewing for marketing: Take the time to look back at how your business, marketing, sales, etc. have gone over the past weeks and months. Compare it to months prior, and make notes on what got attention, and what didn’t. If you’re new to business, or you haven’t been tracking how your marketing is doing, take the time to set up your systems properly from the start so you can use this valuable information as to what your target market is looking for, and what didn’t resonate with them.

Reviewing your business plan: Your business evolves every year due to changing trends, technology, and target markets. It’s important to recognize these changes, and have a plan to make your business thrive in the positive and survive and overcome the challenges. Identifying these annual changes will help highlight weaknesses that can be turned into strengths, and help to push the strengths even further to create goals that will grow your business based on what’s already been working for you.

ABCs of Business: Marketing, Navigation, Opt-ins

M is for Marketing:
Marketing… the necessary evil of business! It can be very overwhelming to know what to do, how much of it, and what to say!

Once you’ve got a solid idea of who your target market is, and what you’d like your main message to be to your audience, sit down and create a plan on a calendar. Write bullet points for each of the things you want to say/sell, and cover all the aspects of how your business solves problems for your ideal client. Mix it up though – so you’re not constantly selling in your marketing. Social media is a great place to start, but if you still need to know where your audience hangs out (or if they’re even active on social media!). It can be a tricky balance, but knowing who your audience is, where they are, and keeping up with marketing consistently is going to make all the difference! Need some help figuring out where to start?

N is for Navigation
Navigation within your site is a delicate balance of making sure your visitor knows what’s available, without giving them so many options that they don’t know what to pick!

Consider what’s most important for your visitors to see, put the menu items in order of priority, and only show the top four to six. Other pages can be accessed within the site, or given lesser prominence by having them available in the footer (like a privacy policy page). By giving too many options right away, you’ll make it harder for visitors to sift through all the possibilities to get to what you want them to see, and what they’re looking for.

A search bar can help for a site that’s heavily content based. If you’re not sure if it’s worth the space you’re giving it on your site, take a look at your analytics over time and see how many visitors are using it so you can make an informed decision.

O is for Opt-ins:
Opt-ins are great for building your email lists, but how you approach them should vary with who your target market is. Some people aren’t bothered by popups that take over your whole site, while others take great offence! I know it seems like common sense, but don’t annoy the people you want something from!

Make them want to give you their email address! Give them something for what you’re getting. Offer a free e-book on a topic that helps your ideal client, offer a discount or coupon – make it worth their while!

ABCs of Business: Justify, Keyword, Logo

J is for Justify:
When you’re building or growing your business, it can be hard to decide what gets the priority (your time and money) when you’re not doing client work.

Exercise: Try making a list of all your “to do” items on small slips of paper, and then move them around until the most important ones are first. It can be tempting to move the ones you’d rather do to the top (we all have our admin tasks we’d rather avoid!), but be honest with yourself in what needs to happen, and knowing that you’ve prioritized these items can help you justify the time and money you’re spending on them.

A few good examples are taking the time to write your business plan, have your website created, keep up with accounting/finances, goal setting and marketing. They’re all important, and they all deserve your time to create a solid foundation and keep things running smoothly, and your business growing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like you want to put something off, set your timer for as long as you think you can concentrate on a task (minimum 15 mins), and work on it for that amount of time. If your to do list is too long for one day (they usually are!), set an amount of time each day to focus on getting the top items done.

Caveat: Don’t spend your entire day organizing yourself. I’m guilty of spending way too long organizing and reorganizing under the idea that it’s necessary. If you’re like me, set the timer for the maximum amount of time it should take to organize, and then get on with it!

For more tips on how to organize your thoughts, check out the various systems I’ve used over the years. I usually end up mixing it up every so often as I find different ways of motivating myself.

K is for Keyword:
Keywords are more than just what you use for SEO! Using the right words in your website content and marketing will convert visitors to clients. You want your ideal clients to read your content, have them know you understand them, their pain points, and that the solution lies with you.

Those carefully selected keywords will be the ones that resonate with them – choose wisely and base it off your business plan research into your target market / ideal client!

L is for Logo:
Logos are some of the most challenging and satisfying projects to work on. There’s so much that needs to be conveyed in such a small mark that’s got to also be usable in a variety of sizes and ways. Good logos are clever, easily recognizable, scale well, and are unique.

If your current logo doesn’t reflect your company’s branding, doesn’t speak to your products, services, or your target market, it’s probably time for a new look. Keep in mind that the process shouldn’t be an overnight job. Hire a professional that is going to take the time to get to know your business and provide you with something unique that very accurately reflects your company.

Interested in learning more? Let’s chat! 

ABCs of Business: Goals, Highlight, Invest

G is for Goals:
Setting goals can be daunting, but goals play such a key role in so many parts of your business – and can keep you on track for easier marketing!

First, let’s start with the obvious one: your financial goal for the year. Create a feasible (base it on your business’ history & target market research!), but also slightly ambitious goal to help you to push yourself. This one goal is going to drive a lot of smaller ones, as it works its way down through your business’ nitty gritty.

Step two: you’ve got your sales goal for the year, now break it down even further, how many products/services do you need to sell to reach that goal? (This can be tricky if you sell a variety of things, so base if off your ideal – but realistic -scenario.) Divide it by twelve, how many a month is that? Is that possible for you to accomplish without going over your maximum capacity for the month? If so, move on down to step three. If not – we need to sort out a few things so you’re not going to burn out trying to keep up with an impossible goal!

Step three: Which of your products are your best sellers? Which products and services make you the most happy to sell? Which ones do you want to focus your marketing on for this quarter, half year, or even for the full year? Remember if you’ve got a bigger number of products or services, that giving equal focus and weight to each of them means none will stand out. For example, if you sell handmade jewellery, but you also offer workshops, and the workshops are where you make the most money, and it’s your favourite part of your business – focus less on selling the individual products, and more on getting people into your workshops! You can mix it up if there are other things you’d like to sell too, but give yourself a solid couple of months promoting a one or two things to really get your message out there before moving on.
Note: Don’t forget your website! Make sure your website is always updated to reflect what your top/ideal sellers are! If you need some insight into the best way to organize your website for maximum impact for selling, shoot us an email and we’ll chat about what you can do!

Step four: Breaking down marketing into its own set of goals! (Flow chart, anyone? I know, it’s getting detailed!) There are so many streams available online alone, from e-commerce shops to social media channels – so how are you going to decide where to put your effort? Look at what you’re focused on selling, and go where those customers are. Let’s keep going with the example of jewellery workshops. Since jewellery is such a visual medium, Instagram is a great choice for marketing. You can post your own finished pieces, but beyond that, also show in progress pieces, behind the scenes work, short clips of what people can expect during your workshops. Find where your audience is, and show them what you have to offer, but don’t put all your marketing efforts into just one channel. Use the research you did for your business plan to know where your clients are.

Reaching goals feels great, but remember to celebrate the small goals you’ve reached so you don’t get too focused on just the biggest one.

 

H is for Highlight:
Highlighting your education, skills, awards, and other special qualities you bring to the table is a big part of establishing authority in your field, and credibility with potential clients.

Don’t forget to highlight these things on your website, through your marketing, and other places people might scope you out, such as LinkedIn.

 

I is for Invest:
Time to talk time and money. I hope by now it’s clear that your business plan, website, and marketing aren’t things that you should be able to do in a day. It takes time and effort, and usually an outside point of view to help you get out of your own head, and to suggest things you might not have even thought to consider.

Since the process is such an investment in time, money and mental space, you want to make sure that you pick the right person to work with. You find them easy to talk to, good with communication, and they should be genuinely excited for your project. If you’re going to take the time to do it, you might as well do it right the first time – use true professionals. People that have education and experience, references, and a solid portfolio of work. Referrals are a great way to check out people that might be able to help you with your business. My main source of clients are from word-of-mouth, and it’s something I’m very proud of.

Your online credibility is a big factor in what people look at before they decide to buy from you – to make sure they can trust your company to deliver what you’re offering. You want to have a clear message for your ideal client, and you want that message to show that you’re willing to invest in your own company so they trust you’ll provide a quality product/service to them too.

Want to learn more about working together? Shoot me a message and we can chat about what you need your clients to see in your business!

ABCs of Business: Design, E-Commerce, Foundation

D is for Design:

Design is more than just making things look good. Design is about communicating a clear message.

The design of your elements is also your first impression to your target market. Are they seeing the message you’re trying to direct to your ideal clients? Are they seeing a quality product or service that they want to invest in? Knowing who your ideal client is is half the battle, but making sure that you know them well enough to be able to speak to them through your design and message to let them know you’re a good fit is just as important. Your design/branding elements (logo, website, social media, marketing) need to reflect your company’s message.

I often use a document called a “Scale for Tone” when I’m getting to know a business better. I use that in conjunction with their business plan to make sure that the two are meshing well together, and that a clear message will come across with the branding and design elements. Within the document are a series of adjectives (some more vague than others) that I ask to be put on a scale of one to ten. There’s a place for notes so they can explain what they mean for the more vague adjectives, and while it’s where I get the most questions – but it’s also where I often get the most clues as to what they really want their brand to say. Not everyone is able to accurately describe what they want succinctly, off the top of their head, but they can look look at a word, and know whether or not that describes their company or not, and by how much.

When the design concepts are complete and ready to be reviewed by the client, I’ll refer back to the Scales for Tone document, what we talked about in the business plan, show how the two are relevant, and why design choices were made based on their own business plan elements. It’s not about the font of the month or the colour or trend of the year – it’s about your business being reflected in your branding, and speaking to your ideal client.

 

E is for E-commerce:
Online shops are a great way to make your product available to people from anywhere, but there’s more to it than just signing up and uploading products! An important step is choosing the platform that’s best for your business plan, audience, and products.

For many people something like Etsy is where they started to sell online. Since Etsy controls how the shop functions, sets up the product space and delivers the audience, it’s a great first step into e-commerce, but can be limiting for people that are interested in showing more of their branding, sales, and in general having more control over how it looks and works. Many makers have an independent e-commerce solution like Shopify, WordPress + plugins, or one that works well with your brick and mortar store’s inventory system – either in tandem with Etsy or completely independent. Having your own site to be able to advertise your featured products, sales, and have customers be able to browse your products without having them be able to browse your competition at the same time is a great asset, but can be intimidating to start from scratch.

If you’re considering starting up an online shop, shoot me a message and we can talk about your platform options, goals, products, target audience and how to drive traffic to your online store so you don’t have to worry about the details – just making your products and getting them sold!

 

F is for Foundation:
Everyone knows the old adage about building a house on a strong foundation – the same is true for your business plan.

You need to lay the foundation of your business through your business plan. Do the research into what you’re offering, to who, why, and how. Once that foundation is set, you can use that to direct your planning for all the aspects of the day-to-day of running your business.

Your website’s structure, goals and design will be based on your business plan. Your marketing will be based on what you learned about your target market within your business plan. Your sales, online presence – it all falls back to the foundation you set with that plan – and it makes it so much easier when you’re confident in that foundation.

If you’re not feeling as though you started with a strong foundation, and it’s affecting your company’s message (be it through your website, marketing or online presence in general), check out the Business Plan Refresh, and we’ll see what we can do to make sure you know exactly who you’re talking to in all aspects of running your business!